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When veterinarian Paula Terifaj purchased a Palm Springs condominium in 1995, she was told that the 24-unit complex had an informal policy prohibiting pets. Terifaj moved in anyway and brought along her pet dog. That infuriated members of the Villa De Las Palmas Homeowners Association, who took Terifaj to court and eventually won a ruling upholding the pet ban, based mostly on clarified restrictions that had been placed in the group’s 42-year-old bylaws in 2000. Today in Los Angeles, the case will be heard before the California Supreme Court, with both sides claiming that a loss would be devastating. Attorneys for the homeowners insist that a victory for Terifaj would render meaningless any rules or restrictions set by homeowners groups statewide, while Terifaj’s attorneys say the court’s ruling will have a direct impact on the 6.7 million California households with pets. The appeal court ruling, which went against Terifaj, would deny pet owners “not only their basic human right to own a pet,” Terifaj’s lawyers wrote in court papers, “but also their freedom to live in the property they choose to buy.” Terifaj has one ally — the Hayward-based California Council of the Blind, which in an amicus curiae letter argues that the ban by the Villa De Las Palmas Homeowners Association is so broad that it would prohibit guide dogs for the blind from being on the grounds. “Permitting these rules to remain in place,” president Catherine Skivers wrote the court, “has a discriminatory, intimidating effect on the rights of persons who require the assistance of guide dogs.” Terifaj is asking the high court to reverse Riverside’s 4th District Court of Appeal, which upheld the pet ban in 2002. In Supreme Court papers, Brea lawyer Russell Nowell, who contends that the pet ban was originally only a verbal agreement, argued that associations should not be able to change the rules after the fact. “The court should stand firm on the principle that equitable servitudes cannot be changed over the objection of a purchaser who purchased without such restrictions,” he wrote. “The court should determine that the amended restrictions on pets in the amended declaration are void under the law of equitable servitudes.” Nowell also contends that the association was subject to state Civil Code � 1360.5, which requires pets to be allowed in common interest developments and mobile homes.” Even though the statute wasn’t enacted until after the Villa De Las Palmas Homeowners Association amended its bylaws, he said, the original legislation, Assembly Bill 860, passed before the amendment. “Because of the change in public policy,” Nowell wrote, “rules which expressly forbid all animals, such as the rule at issue, should be determined to be against public policy and, therefore, unreasonable.” Peter Racobs and Margaret Wangler, who represent the homeowners association, responded by arguing that the new statute applies only to documents written or amended after Jan. 1, 2001, and they insist it did not announce a public policy disfavoring pet restrictions. They also argued that the current case is governed by the Supreme Court’s own 1994 ruling in Nahrstedt v. Lakeside Village Condominium Association Inc., 8 Cal.4th 361. “In Nahrstedt,” Racobs and Wangler wrote, “this court held that courts must enforce the restrictions in recorded declarations of covenants, conditions and restrictions �unless the challenger can show that the restriction is unreasonable because it is arbitrary, violates a fundamental public policy or imposes burdens on the use of the affected property that substantially outweigh the restriction’s benefits.’” None of those conditions applies, the two argued, especially considering that Terifaj was aware of the no-pets ban before buying her condominium. As part of her argument that the ban was unreasonable, Terifaj claimed that it was so broad that it prevents anyone with a guide dog from buying a condominium or visiting a friend on the grounds. “Thus,” Nowell wrote, “Dr. Terifaj is subject to imprisonment for contempt of court if she leases to the owner of a Seeing Eye dog, or invites the owner of a Seeing Eye dog into her home.” The lawyers for the homeowners association said that argument had not been raised at the lower courts and could not be raised now. Nonetheless, they said, federal law would require the association to make an allowance under the rules for any disabled person needing a guide dog. “However, again, Terifaj has made no request for such an accommodation,” they wrote, “and there is no evidence that the association would not respond in accordance with the law.”

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